Wines for different seasons

Imagine a hot summer’s day, warm enough to make you want to eat in the garden. Maybe you’ll light a barbecue or simply throw together a simple salad — nothing too heavy. Now switch your mind to a winter’s evening with rain beating on the windows. Still going to serve that salad? Not on your life. That’s the time for a big steaming bowl of soup or a hearty stew.

It’s second nature to adjust the kind of food you eat to the time of year, but how often do you do the same thing with wine? Yet you no more want to drink a big gutsy red in the middle of a boiling hot day than a light, fruity rosé when there’s snow on the ground. It’s not so much that the wine doesn’t taste right (big reds are in fact quite good with barbecued food), you’re just not in the mood.

When it’s hot or when you’re tired, you want wines that are simple and refreshing. When it’s cold, you want something more substantial and satisfying and you’re often more mentally alert and prepared to make an effort to get to grips with something strange or unfamiliar.

Of course, given how unpredictable the weather can be, one can’t make hard and fast rules about seasons. Spring sometimes comes ridiculously early, a summer’s day can he grey and cloudy, and autumn more like an Indian summer. Be led by the temperature outside, rather than the date on the calendar, but here are some broad guidelines to seasonal drinking that should give you some ideas.

Spring

At the first signs of spring you suddenly yearn for fresh zesty flavors. Sauvignon Blanc fits the bill perfectly, as do most crisp, inexpensive whites. If you’re a Chardonnay lover go for a lighter unoaked style. And move on to lighter fruitier reds than those you’ve been drinking through the winter.

Summer

As the temperature climbs you frequently fancy a glass of wine on its own. Good candidates are fragrant, aromatic whites such as Riesling, many of which are quite low in alcohol. In fact it’s generally a good idea to stick to lighter wines, particularly around lunchtime. Try the French habit of drinking rosé.

Autumn

With nights drawing in there’s a ‘back to school’ feel about autumn. It’s time to experiment with different grape varieties or discover a new country or region. If you’re doing some formal entertaining take the opportunity to enjoy some of the more subtle expressive wines, such as burgundy or mature Rioja, after the simple fruit flavors of summer. They go well with seasonal foods such as mushrooms and game.

Winter

Comfort food; comfort wine — that’s what cold weather drinking should be about. Now’s the time to enjoy those full-bodied reds and bring out those big oaky Chardonnays. And port isn’t just for Christmas; curl up in front of a blazing fire and treat yourself to a glass as a warming winter nightcap.

Christmas

Christmas is a time to play safe. With different generations gathering, you need bottles that are going to please everyone. I reckon you need six types of wine: a good quality, smooth, medium-bodied red and white for Christmas Day (France still impresses); an inexpensive fruity red and white as a standby for impromptu parties and other family meals; something indulgent, sweet and sticky (a half bottle of dessert wine or a bottle of port) and a bottle or two of bubbly (cava for parties, Champagne or a good-quality sparkling wine to celebrate Christmas or see in the New Year). Of course, exactly which wines you choose depends on what you are eating, but you won’t go far wrong if you stick to the classics.

Outdoor eating

There’s no point in buying expensive wines to eat out of doors — all that bracing fresh air kills subtle flavors stone dead. For picnics stick to crisp dry whites and rosés and soft fruity reds, not forgetting to chill the whites and rosés thoroughly before you go. (You can also buy insulated jackets to keep your bottle cool.) With all those spicy marinades, barbecues present even more of a challenge. Superfruity New World wines work best, but steer clear of wines with too much oak or you’ll end up with an overload of spice and smoke.

Wines for different people


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